Friday, November 11, 2011

The Incomparable Aunt Chick --and Those Fabulous Cookie Cutters!!

          I had an incredible bit of luck recently!  One of our premier Tulsa experts on antiques and collectibles held an estate sale recently...for another Tulsa icon who had been quite an artist in the world of cake decorating/candy making.  Among the items at the sale were some boxes of Aunt Chick's Cookie Cutters.  I was lucky enough to get several boxes of them...the original ones, no less!  Not my usual style of collectible, but they were a wonderful link to one of those extraordinary Tulsa women from the past.

          While working on the Oklahoma Women in History project, I read every reference, every story, every tidbit I could find about the women who were prominent in the early years of Tulsa's history.  Some stories were awe-inspiring, some were eyebrow-raising, all were interesting...but none was more delightful than that of Aunt Chick...more appropriately known as Mrs. Sam (Nettie) McBirney.

          One of Tulsa's grand reminders of the oil boom years is the McBirney Mansion, now a most elegant showcase for special occasions.   Sam McBirney was a renowned football coach at TU when it was Kendall College; his family founded the National Bank of Commerce.  Nettie came from Wisconsin to teach home ec in Claremore and moved to Tulsa when she married Sam.  She loved was an art to her..and when she was asked by the Tulsa World to write a cooking column, she agreed. 

          My favorite anticdote in this is that she didn't tell her husband about her new venture...he read it in the paper!  She wrote her column under the name "Aunt Chick", her nickname, and when he saw the new column that morning, he rushed upstairs to confront her, shouting "That crazy woman will start a run on the bank if people think she has to work!"  ( Since my late husband was a banker...and I know how they think...I laughed out loud when I read that!  I still do!)  I decided that she would always be one of my favorite Tulsa ladies!
          There are a number of articles that the Tulsa World (and others) have written on this neat lady over the years in the database of the Tulsa City-County Library:   You'll find her story quite delightful.  I did contact my friend Nancy Schallner, who is a very knowledgable researcher (aka "guardian") at the Tulsa Historical Society to see if she had a younger picture of Nettie.  She did share one with me of Nettie in her probably 40's-50's, but I couldn't get it to copy for me here!  (As a footnote, you would enjoy visiting Nancy's blog that she writes as the Tulsa Gal:   She shares all kinds of interesting stories from Tulsa's past!)
           But....back to those wonderful cookie cutters!  If you've read any of the articles above, you'll know now what a charming piece of the past these delightful designs are.  They were so innovative that they are still in demand today!   
          They were manufactured under the name "The Four McB's" with the address of their later home.  One has had a sticker put over that original label to reflect a later "model."  Nettie's charming style even comes through on the information on the box:
 "Aunt Chick's Cookies"
 Guaranteed Easy to Make

Recipe:  A.  Beat together until smooth and light 1 c. fat, 2/3 c. sugar, 3/4 t. salt, 1 t. flavoring, exactly 1/3 c. eggs (about 2).
               B.  Add 3 c. sifted and measured all-purpose flour.  Wrap in waxed paper.  Chill at least 2 hours.  When using whites only, use 3-1/2 c. flour.
               C.  For light blue or pink dough, use 1/3 c. whites only.  Add coloring before adding flour.  For yellow cookie, use yolks only.  Use pastry canvas for rolling cookies.  It is much easier and the cookies are so much better.
               D.  Bake at 350 degrees, no higher, 325 degrees for colored doughs and do not brown tinted doughs.  They get to an ugly color.  However, brown Santa to a good healthy tint.  Who ever heard of a pale Santa Claus?

              Decorations.  These cookies are lovely undecorated.  However, Santa is much more human with raisin eyes, cut as directed.  Directions for coloring sugar in each box.
              Colors.  There is a great difference in vegetable colorings.  Blue, green and yellow vegetable coloring of any brand are satisfactory.
                             However, red coloring often makes a lavender shade which is not right for Santa's cheeks.
                             If you can find Dr. Price's red coloring in your market, buy it.  If not, send 25 cents for a bottle of Christmas red coloring which is especially blended for us.   ""

           There are inserts in some of the boxes that are written in the same chatty informal style as the feel as if you are visiting with Aunt Chick in her kitchen and she is sharing her tips with you.   These delightful cookie cutters make you think you have stepped back in time to a warm kitchen with youngsters in over-sized aprons (probably standing on chairs so they can watch mother roll out that incredible dough), picking out which cookie cutters they want to use for their personal creations...and debating who will get to lick the spoon!   You can almost smell them baking in the oven!   The best part of course was deciding how those special treats would be decorated...those young hands creating their very own works of art!
            It was a simpler time perhaps, but maybe...just long as Aunt Chick's splendid cookie cutters are around, those sweet traditions will be recreated and be passed on, again and again.

           Am I going to make these for Christmas this year?   You bet!!